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One-stop spot designed to help college students get a good start and on the road to graduation

OUTLOOK PHOTO - Mt. Hood Community CollegeHoping to guide more students to graduation, Mt. Hood Community College is working on a one-stop spot for new students to get everything they need to start and successfully integrate into college.

The initiative, called the New Student Experience (NSE), will establish a central location where students will have access to support staff, be able to complete all steps to get started in school and get connected to college services.

The college hopes this initiative will keep more students in school and boost the graduation rate.

MHCC staff began planning the NSE project in the summer 2017.

It is being funded by a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The federal Title III grant has a five-year term and is dispersed in $430,000 annual payments, that started in October 2016.

"We have these funds that we need to use to increase student retention and degree completion. And an essential key to retaining new students is to support them during that critical first year," Matt Farina, MHCC's Director of Retention, said in an announcement.

To help keep students in school, MHCC will establish a centralized Student Services Hub located in the current student services office and adjacent areas.

The Hub will be built over the summer and open for fall term 2018. It will house all the services and support personnel that current or prospective students may need, including financial aid, advising, registration and orientation.

The Hub will serve as a wayfinding place for all students who may have questions, need help finding resources or require assistance in getting started.

"We're using a collaborative approach to build the Hub and NSE components," Nancy Gomez-Sewell, Title III Project Coordinator at MHCC said in the announcement.

"We have five teams comprised of MHCC staff and faculty from across the college," she added.

"The Title III team has conducted over 65 one-on-one interviews with faculty and staff, and hosted more than 12 departmental staff input sessions," added Gomez-Sewell.

"Additionally, the Title III team has compiled data from 450-plus student surveys and held focus groups for 250-plus students, to determine their central needs," she said.

The college will also produce a "Getting Started Guide," a print and digital tool that aims to lead students through key steps to get started at MHCC.

The NSE program will consolidate orientation events and offer three orientation options, starting this summer. Students can get an orientation online. There also will be an intensive multi-day orientation.

The third option is a one-day, on campus celebration that offers food, fun and facts about how to get the most out of MHCC.

Community colleges have notoriously low rates of keeping students in school and graduating.

But the statistics are a bit squishy because not everyone who starts at a community college intends to complete a two-year degree or certificate. There are dozens of reasons students don't finish school other than dropping out.

Some students just take a few classes to sharpen skills, some transfer to a four-year institution earlier than planned and some are picking up prerequisites for programs elsewhere, among many possibilities.

Mt. Hood Community College fall term-to-fall term retention rate was 52 percent and the college's graduation rate hovered around 18 percent, in 2014, when the Title III grant was written. MHCC's goal is to increase the retention to 59 percent and graduation rates to 26 percent by 2021.

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